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Sunday March 16, 2008

Gastronomic bliss

There is much to be gained from knowing how to cook, so says a chef who started frying keropok at the tender age of five.


CELEBRITY chef Zamzani Abdul Wahab has a knack for making the love for food and all things delectable a contagious affair. Those who suffer from poor appetites should consider lunching with this 38-year-old bachelor. 

Watching him eat a simple bowl of beehoon soup is a gastronomic performance for the senses and it does not take long for the watcher’s salivary glands to twitch and hanker for a bite of what he’s having. But then, that is expected of a personality whose passion for food has turned him into a household celebrity.  

For the uninitiated, Chef Zam, as he is popularly known, is the star of Seri Mas ... Selera Dunia, a food and lifestyle programme on TV2 which airs every Sunday at 5pm. The programme ended its first season last year and the second one will be scheduled for shooting once the sponsors have been confirmed.  

“The second season will see us heading for Europe where we will be doing a travelogue on halal food in the region,” is all Chef Zam will reveal for the moment.  

In his element: Chef Zam surrounded by the loves of his life, which he turns into culinary wonders.
Meanwhile, the celeb is content to settle into his daytime role as senior lecturer in KDU College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts. 

Not surprisingly, Sunday Metro would find him in his ‘teacher mode’ during a lunch cum interview at the Signature Kitchen outlet at Sunway Mentari, a kitchen fittings showroom. Where else would a chef feel more at home? But then, Zam is in no mood to reveal the A-Zs of his dream kitchen. Instead he would take the opportunity to wage a personal campaign of his own.  

“Cooking is a basic life skill that must be taught to children,” is his manifesto.  

The statement stems from what he feels is an unhealthy rising trend of instant noodles taking the place of healthy meals, especially so among young people who are living away from home for the first time. And horror of horrors, the chef would reveal his terrifying discovery that some adults have yet to learn how to cook rice!  

“It’s a shame. Some parents tell me that their daughters or sons cannot cook and they seem proud of it. They say that these teenagers are more interested in reading or surfing the Internet. There is nothing wrong with that but there will come a time when they have to eat. What then?” he queries.  

Cooking, unlike the presumptions of many who are not familiar with the kitchen, is not a difficult task at all, assures this chef who started frying keropok at the tender age of five by standing on a chair to reach the stove.  

While this revelation would make many gasp at the safety issues brought on by exposing a child to fire and the possibility of painful and potentially fatal oil scalds, Chef Zam would counter that adult supervision will make the activity a safe one. In his case, it was his grandmother who played the role of watchdog.  

And Chef Zam would agree that there is nothing wrong with starting them young. May it be peeling onions or baking crazy cookies, the life lessons learned will carry a child beyond the kitchen.  

“There are multi skills to be learned. A child will know the danger of knives and fire. Cooking is also a little project on its own which requires the intelligence of organisation. Though I know Asian culture does not encourage boys to be in the kitchen, I feel this is wrong,” he says.  

As for the excuse of lack of equipment, Zam, who speaks from 11 years of experience, insists that a wok, stove, spatula plus a chopping board and knife, would be more than sufficient to whip up a delicious meal.  

“In the first place, understand how ingredients work. This is not hard because everyone has had the experience of eating. So, just delve into your library of experience and chances are you will be able to figure this part out,” he enthuses.  

Tastes so good: Zam has the knack for making a simple plate of noodles look delicious.
And the rest, assures the chef, is up to an individual’s creativity.  

As an example, assam boi and vinaigrette dressing for a mango and guava salad, roti canai stuffed with durian paste and deep-fried ‘lempuk’ balls (mashed durian rolled up like dodol) coated with quaker oats, are among some yummies Chef Zam discovered during his culinary experiments.  

Lastly, here’s a word of advice from a seasoned chef on how to keep the kitchen a peaceful place.  

“A home-cooked meal, especially from a loved one, should be very much appreciated. If it so happens that the food does not taste good, courtesy should prevail and the cook should be complimented anyway,” he says with a knowing smile.  

For those keen on some quick cook notes or looking for an emcee to liven up an occasion, Zamzani can be contacted at 012-377 7603.  

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